"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Monday, August 25, 2008

"Sweet Mud" by Dror Shaul

The kibbutz movement was meant to be a utopian society where people lived and breathed the ideology of equality in social, educational and economic terms. It was supposed to be a paradise on earth, especially for children. What could be better than to grow up in a truly socialist society, living in a children's house, where all the adults on the kibbutz relate to you as your parents! But alas, individuals get in the way of the best laid plans. According to filmmaker Dror Shaul, kibbutz members were so intent on living their ideology that they were not capable or even interested in dealing with the individual and his special needs.

This film is a study of kibbutz members' difficulties in coping with one woman's weakness and instability. It also provides a glimpse at the suffering of an adolescent boy in trying to walk the tightrope between being part of the collective and trying to cope with his mother's unique issues.
It is 1974 and Dvir is 12-years-old. His mother (Ronit Yudkeviz) is alone and lonely and has moments that show that she is not quite stable. His father died in an "accident", which we learn is a euphemism for suicide. This is Dvir's bar mitzvah year, and the youngsters are pushed very hard to accomplish a whole string of challenges. Part of Dvir's coming of age, however, is coming to terms with his mother's mental illness, and his learning to cope with their complex relationship.

Dvir's mother is treated badly by the kibbutz -- she has to ask permission when she wants to invite a man whom she met to visit her for a prolonged stay on the kibbutz. The indignities continue when one of their neighbors kills Dvir's dog (because he has impregnated his dog one time too many), and Dvir's mother has no power to take steps. The kibbutz secretary yells at her, in essence saying that she is not a strong worker, does not contribute her share and therefore cannot make complaints. She has been humiliated one time too many and she has a breakdown and is hospitalized.

Comments from the Filmmaker
At a workshop held at the recent Jerusalem Film Festival (July 15, 2008), filmmaker Dror Shaul (Sweet Mud, 2006, Vaknin the Witch, 2003, and Operation Grandma, 1999), talked about the making of the film and about his experiences developing the script at the Sundance filmmakers lab.

This is a film with young actors. In fact, the young actor playing Dvir (Tomer Steinhof) was in just about every scene of the film! It is also about Dvir's special relationship with a girl. Shaul told a funny story about the difficulties of working with young actors -- the two adolescents didn't want to kiss, it's 15 minutes before sunrise, and we were pressured for time, so I told them you don't have to kiss. So they relaxed and I told one to lie down, then the other to lie down, one to turn to the other, then the other to turn, come closer together, touch your lips together, then come apart and laugh – can you do that instead of the kiss? Yes, they said! So we filmed it before the sun came up!

The results were a very touching scene between two adolescents, growing up together in the same children's house, reaching out to each other in their loneliness.

When asked how did you make a culturally specific film that talked to an international audience, Shaul remarked that the kibbutz is a unique and closed community, but the kibbutz is not the only subject of the film. The film is also about a relationship between a son and a dysfunctional mother and in the end the son gives up his desperate attempts at helping his mother and instead helps her to die. This is an international subject.

Sweet Mud אדמה משוגעת was the first prize winner of the Berlin Film Festival's category of films for children and youth (2007).


SFK said...

This sounds like an interesting movie! The way you describe "the accident" in this film reminded me of the way you described "the bee sting" in Broken Wings. Is this film maker also trying to remind us that people in Israel die not only of terrorist attacks?

Amy Kronish said...

The only hints that we can get from the film about the father's "accident" -- his suicide -- show us that he was probably running either from the oppressive atmosphere on the kibbutz OR from his wife's mental illness. No one knew how to deal with mental illness, except to humiliate and ostracize the woman who was already suffering enough!